The Fairgrounds Square Mall has itself become a ghost. It was just demolished over what will inevitably go down as the infamous Summer of 2020. The mall was on its last leg for years, and it only seemed fitting that it would meet its end in such a year as this one has been. However, if you spent any time working there over the course of its 40 year existence, you may have heard or seen things you couldn’t explain.
Before the mall was constructed in 1980 the land was a part of the Reading Fairgrounds and Speedway. The Fairgrounds’ history dates back to 1916, so if there were spirits haunting the mall, it was likely that this place was their origins. There were many documented deaths that occurred on the racetrack during its heyday in the 20th century.
On Saturday, June 11th 1966 a race held at the Fairgrounds Speedway would prove to be tragic. Two racers were fatally injured when their cars collided between the first and second turns on the second lap of the race. According to the Reading Eagle article about the event below, their cars came to rest on the curve of the eastern turn. These final resting points were close to if not within the walls of the future mall. Roughly around the center court and what would eventually be Burlington, using the comparison aerials above for reference.
Racer Jackie Evans also perished in a race on the Reading Fairgrounds Speedway track on August 28th 1970.
On October 29th, 1978 the Schmidt’s 200 race was supposed to mark the last event for the Reading Fairgrounds Speedway. Michael Grbac got tangled in traffic and flipped down the front stretch on the 99th lap. His roof was facing oncoming competitors, and was hit by another driver. He succumbed to his injuries a month later in the hospital. He would be the last driver to perish in a race at the Reading Fairgrounds Speedway.
This race however did not end up being the last, as the Spring of 1979 season saw a few more races before the mall developers got the final go-ahead from local government to demolish the grand stands. Luckily that day did not end up being the very last memory for Reading Fairgrounds Speedway fans.
Other fatalities on the track during its tenure included racers Leon McMinn, Charlie Bubeck and Johnny Hubbard.
The 1980s paved the way for the growing retail world of the new shopping mall. People who have worked in the now-defunct shopping mall have stories about the strange things they have heard during their time there.
Here are just a couple first hand accounts from two of Berks Nostalgia’s facebook page followers:
I can tell you the ones I know of at Record Town. We had the weird things like we would hear people looking through the albums or cd’s but nobody was there. That happened often. Once a coworker of mine was up at the cash register at the front of the store. She saw someone dressed all in white walk into our back room. When she went to investigate it, nobody was back there. This one happened to me. It was a slow Saturday morning. My manager was in the back room and I was the only worker on the floor. I had 2 male customers in the store. One all the way in back and one all the way up front. I was in the middle. We had no music on at the time so it was pretty quiet. Then I started to hear a female humming a tune near me. As I said I was the only female in the store and no one else was close to me. Heard a lot of other stories from other people in the mall but these are the big ones we experienced in my store.Allison Shirk Sabo
Wow, and that is similar to my stories at Your Place. We would often catch a glimpse of someone walking around at night after close. The one waitress had a table move right in front of her, she was so scared she had to leave. We would also hear a faint phantom PA announcer talking, and that was heard many times by a bunch of us at the same time. Also would see glasses move across bar after close, if it was just me, you could call me nuts, but that was witnessed by multiple people at the same time. And of course, the usual doors closing and whispers. I could go on…Jeffrey Kibler
Perhaps these experiences were the footsteps of racers and the echos of the announcers reverberating through space and time from the Reading Fairgrounds Speedway?
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